Artificial Love

Could you fall in love with Siri? OK, let's not say Siri in particular, since Siri is as dumb as a stump and doesn't understand anything you ask her. But what about a version of Siri that's a few generations away, one with not only better voice recognition but a real personality, one that learns and changes and gets to know you, one with which (whom?) you build a complicated relationship? Could you fall in love with that program?

That's the question that Spike Jonze's new movie Her seems to be asking. Check out the trailer:

Like most of Jonze's films, Her looks to be filled with longing and melancholy. And the possibility doesn't seem too far-fetched, both from the perspective of the software and our remarkable ability to imbue non-human things—both inanimate and otherwise—with human characteristics. After all, in Japan, there are men who have deep emotional relationships with pillows.

Granted, that's absurd, but have you ever had a crush on a character in a television show? You know you have. 1I'll confess: my strongest TV crush was on Maggie O'Connell, the character played by Janine Turner on "Northern Exposure." The fact that Turner turned out to be a right-wing nutball pains me to this day. Think about what a limited amount you learned about that character—just a few hundred lines of dialogue, of course presented in the physical form of a very attractive Hollywood actor. Now that you've called up that memory, imagine if that character could have interacted with you, had long and frank conversations, and was programmed to be charming, understanding, affectionate, or whatever else might be most appealing to you. Couldn't you develop feelings for that persona that were much more meaningful than what you felt for your old TV crush?

You don't have to believe that artificial intelligences will eventually reach a state of sentience to acknowledge that before long they'll be able to simulate human personality in ways we find indistinguishable from the real thing. Even if they won't really fall in love with us, I'm pretty sure that more than a few of us are going to fall in love with them. The most unsettling question is: Would that be such a bad thing?

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